Saturday, 29 July 2017

Needs first, wants later...with extra salt.

This is the extended* article first published in the York Press on Tuesday, July 4th 2017.

Last year I was having a check-up with a cardiologist, having had some tests after experiencing a blackout. I joked that having concussion for six weeks had kept me from drinking alcohol and I was looking forward to resuming my one glass of wine, four days a week. Hardly extreme. “Why?”, he responded. “Do you need it?" 

The answer is, of course, “No, I don’t need it.” Though, thinking of those stressful, not party times, when I’ve used alcohol to ‘fuzzy the edges', the difference between need and want could sometimes appear borderline.

I have been reminded of the doctor’s words in recent times, particularly the Grenfell Tower tragedy. People have had to find out in terrible ways, that it’s an individual’s needs that must be met before turning to their wants. Within minutes of tragedy unfolding, the basic needs of shelter, food, water, clothing and money became urgent for hundreds of people. The need for security, community and friendship became obvious too. Personally, I would be distressed to lose family memorabilia, as would most people, but none would matter if I hadn’t got my basic needs met. It’s a thought-provoking exercise to seriously look at everything one owns and reflect on what one would actually need in an emergency. This is something I done a couple of times in life and it’s sobering when realising that very little we surround ourselves with, actually matters when lives and sanity are at risk.  

Another need is a sense of control and it must be unsettling to feel that events have temporarily taken personal control away. Other critical needs to enable an individual to thrive, are being stretched and a sense of achievement. When helping people with emotional problems, an audit of the client’s needs and resources was always made. Sometimes the root of a problem was in the present day, though often it could be traced to a lack or perceived lack, of a need being met in childhood. 

* There are studies which show that if a person's needs are met, then the possibility of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are lessened. I recall this being shown strongly after the London bombs on July 7th 2005. Some of the injured and affected victims were living on their own and did not belong to a community. They were more vulnerable to PTSD than others.  The sense of community is enormous at the Grenfell Tower site, which is good, but as the weeks pass, the loss of control and security in the  resident's lives is causing increasing distress.  It's not just at the Grenfell Tower site either, as more tower blocks all over the UK need attention.

Returning to the Cardiologist. He was correct in that I didn’t need wine to live healthily. What I did need was more plain water and salt and I have increased my daily intake of both. I also enjoy a glass of wine four times a week.
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* By the time I had an appointment with a Cardiologist in 2016, which was only at my insistence, I had experienced 'funny turns' since 2008, which I knew were somehow stress related. (Fifty-four in 2009 and now only one or two a year.) The only diagnosis I had received was from a Neurologist, who after many tests said, "We don't know, so it must be pre-epilepsy and take this medication." In 2016, another Neurologist said it definitely wasn't epilepsy.

*As the medication was anti-psychotics and I was pretty sure the epilepsy wasn't the root cause, I didn't take the medication and I'm here to tell the tale. If simple questions about water and salt intake had been asked, then Vasovagel Syncope could have been diagnosed earlier and I could have avoided two head injuries. The Cardiologist even told me to look up the diagnosis on Google to see if I agreed. I was astonished. I did look it up and agreed with him at the follow-up appointment.

*It's interesting that in the last few weeks, the medics are questioning whether 6grams of salt a day is too little. It probably is.  When I was in hospital, the staff nurse mentioned that patients being admitted due to falls had spiked in recent times for no particular reason. A friend who worked for a food agency on the traffic light system on food wrapping, said that when the salt limit was announced some years ago, she and her boss said that it was too little and there would be problems. She could be right.

* A handy hint. Be careful how you describe your symptoms. I used the word, 'deja-vu', which proved my undoing. I changed it to 'visual disturbance'. 

*If you should know anyone from the services or related to service personnel, active or retired, who may be experiencing PTSD, I can highly recommend this charity.